Tired of opening the Mac App Store to install macOS updates? Use the Terminal instead.
The Mac App Store is slow, especially on older Macs. Even on newer Macs, the store is kind of annoying to use for updates. That’s why we showed you how to update or install Mac App Store software from the Terminal, but sadly that method doesn’t let you update macOS itself.
Don’t worry! It turns out there’s a built-in method for downloading macOS updates from the Terminal, and it’s not that hard to use. Here’s a quick tutorial.
List and Install macOS Updates From the Terminal
Open the Terminal, which you can find using the Finder by heading to Applications > Utilities. Next, type softwareupdate -l at the prompt and hit Return. This command lists all available updates on your system.
Downloading and installing all available updates is simple: just use the command softwareupdate -i -a and you’re set.
You can use your computer while the download is happening, which is nice. Eventually you’ll be asked to restart your computer.
Do this to finish the installation. Wasn’t that easy?
A quick note: if you’d prefer to install only one of the available updates, you can: just use the command softwareupdate -i followed by the exact name of the update in single quotes. We found this method frustrating, but it’s there for you when you don’t want to install everything all at once.
Download macOS Updates From the Terminal Without Installing
There’s no way, in the Mac App Store, to download an update manually without also triggering the installation. That’s annoying, but you can work around this using the Terminal.
First, list all the available updates using softwareupdate -l , like we did above.
You can download all of these updates without installing them using the command softwareupdate -d -a .
After downloading, you can install updates from the Mac App Store, if you want: you’ll get to skip the download step. You can also use the installation terminal commands we covered in the previous section.
Of course the Terminal isn’t for everyone. If all of this sounds like way too much work, you can control when macOS updates are installed using the macOS settings.
Plus, how to do it all at once
Every once in a while, you’ll find that an update is available for either your macOS system or the apps installed on your machine. It’s important that you keep your system software and apps up to date. This ensures your system is stable and your apps are bug-free.
On a Mac machine, you have several ways to update the operating system and applications. The traditional way to get and install new updates is to use the official Mac App Store on your machine.
However, you’re not tied to it to install your updates. You can also use the Terminal app to find, download, and install various updates on your machine. There are even configurable options letting you decide how these updates should be installed.
Update The macOS Version From Terminal
Terminal has a command that checks for all the available updates for macOS and allows you to download and install them on your machine. The command also lets you update Apple apps such as iTunes on your Mac.
What it doesn’t do though is to install updates for the third-party apps installed on your machine. For those apps, you’re going to need to install a package that is described in the later part of this guide.
Find Available macOS System Updates
The first thing you’ll want to do is check what updates are available for your macOS and Apple apps. Checking doesn’t necessarily mean downloading or installing updates. It’s just to give you an idea what needs to be updated on your Mac.
Launch the Terminal app using your preferred method on your Mac.
When the app launches, type in the following command and press Enter.
It’ll look for all the available updates and display them in your Terminal window. The information you’ll see include the app names, size of the update, whether the update is recommended or not, and whether the update requires rebooting your machine.
You can also check the updates with Terminal and then install them from the App Store, if you want to do it that way.
Download macOS System Updates
After finding out what updates are available, you might want to download those updates to your Mac. Keep in mind that downloading also doesn’t require you to install the updates. You can just keep the updates downloaded and not install them right away.
Launch the Terminal app and type in the following command and hit Enter.
softwareupdate -d -a
- It’ll download all the available updates but won’t install them. You’ll find these update files in the /Library/Updates/ folder on your Mac.
Install Downloaded macOS Updates
The updates you download using the Terminal command can’t be manually installed. These updates can only be installed using a command in the Terminal app.
To install them, you need to first find out the name of the update and then use that name below to get the update installed on your Mac.
Launch the Terminal app, type in the following command, and hit Enter. Make sure to replace update-name with the name of the update you wish to install.
softwareupdate -i update-name
It’ll let you know when the update is installed on your machine. This shouldn’t take too long as the update is already downloaded on your Mac and it just needs to be installed.
Download & Install All macOS Updates
What you did in the above sections was update things bit by bit. What if you want to find, download, and install all the macOS updates in one go? Well, Terminal has you covered.
There’s a command that lets you install all the available updates on your Mac in a single execution.
Open the Terminal app and run the following command in it.
softwareupdate -i -a
The command will get all updates installed and let you know when it’s done. This’ll take longer than the above methods as it first downloads all the updates and then installs them one by one on your machine.
Update Mac Apps From Terminal
Third-party apps that aren’t developed by Apple require different commands to be updated from the Terminal on your Mac. These app updates won’t show up when you run the commands mentioned above.
In order to be able to update all of your Mac Store Apps, you’re going to need to install Homebrew followed by ‘mas’ on your machine. It’ll then let you update your other apps.
Open the Terminal app and run the following command in it to install Homebrew.
/usr/bin/ruby -e “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)”
When Homebrew is installed, type in the following command and press Enter to install the mas utility.
brew install mas
When mas is installed, you can run the following command to see a list of all the apps that can be updated using this utility.
Type in the following command and press Enter to see all the apps that require an update.
Run the following command to update all the outdated apps. It’ll first download updates for all the outdated apps and then install them so expect a good amount of time before it finishes.
Wait while the utility updates your apps. When it’s done, you can close the Terminal window.
You don’t necessarily need to keep mas and Homebrew installed on your Mac if you don’t plan to update your apps using this way in the future. Uninstalling them won’t affect the updated apps on your Mac so it’s safe to remove them if you want.
If you’re sick of waiting for the progress bar to complete every time you reboot after a macOS software update, then you’ll be pleased to learn there’s another way to update your Mac that could potentially reduce your downtime.
The process involves a simple Terminal command, and allows you to continue using your Mac as the update downloads and the initial software installation takes place in the background. In our tests, we found that this method was capable of shaving off several minutes of idle time during installation restarts, but that the time-saving depends on the machine and the update in question.
Users with older Macs in particular will likely appreciate this tip, as it saves having to fire up the Mac App Store altogether, which can be slow-going and sometimes even downright unresponsive. Read on to find out how it’s done.
How to Update macOS From the Command Line
Before following these steps, ensure you have a full backup of your system, which should be par for the course when performing any update. Note that the following procedure only lists stock Apple system updates (iTunes, Photos, printer drivers the like), but not updates for other Apple apps that aren’t installed with macOS (Xcode, for instance), and not third-party updates from the Mac App Store.
To update macOS from the command line, first launch Terminal, which can be found in the Applications/Utilities folder. This will open a Terminal window and a command prompt for you to begin typing.
Input the following command and press Enter: softwareupdate -l
Now let’s take a look at the command’s output. Available updates always appear as items in a list. In our example, only one update is available at this time, but every item follows the same format, as shown:
The asterisked line denotes the individual software update package that’s available for your Mac to download. This line is also known as the identifier.
The second line offers a more detailed description of the update, including the version number (usually in brackets) and the download file size in kilobytes. [Recommended] means the update is recommended for all users, and [restart] indicates that your Mac needs to reboot for installation to complete.
To download and install a specific update in the list, use the following format, but replacing NAME with the update’s identifier:
softwareupdate -i NAME
softwareupdate –install NAME
Note that if the package name you’re trying to install has spaces in it, you’ll need to enclose the whole thing in single quotes. So for example:
softwareupdate –install ‘macOS High Sierra 10.13.3 Supplemental Update-‘
Also, be alert for spaces at the end of the package names. If present, they also need to be included within the quotes.
Moving on, to download a specific update for your system without also installing it then and there, you can use:
softwareupdate -d NAME
Updates downloaded in this way can be subsequently installed with the same -i or –install command above, or even through the Mac App Store. These updates are downloaded to a folder located in /Library/Updates, but they aren’t designed to be installed by double-clicking the packages in that directory. You’ll need to use the –install command or visit the Mac App Store to actually initiate the install.
Lastly, to download and install all available updates for your system, type the command:
softwareupdate -i -a
Using these commands, you’ll be able to leave the update to download and continue to install in the background while you get on with other things. All being well, Terminal will eventually prompt you to restart your machine manually so that the full installation procedure can complete. (Note that the softwareupdate utility requires admin authentication for all commands except the -l or -list command. If you run softwareupdate as a normal admin user, you will be prompted for a password where required.)
As some users will no doubt be aware, there are several additional options that can be used in conjunction with the softwareupdate utility. For example, -schedule on/off enables/disables your Mac’s scheduled background check for updates. More adventurous readers can use man softwareupdate and softwareupdate -h for a summary list of commands.
Most of the time, you can re-download the current version of macOS via the Mac App Store, and older ones via these links:
However, I’ve run into a situation several times where the Software Update mechanism simply refuses to initiate a download:
Thankfully, macOS installers can be downloaded via Terminal in macOS Catalina. This command will download the most recent version of macOS, depositing it in your Applications folder:
The softwareupdate command has some neat tricks up its sleeve, as pointed out by Armin Briegel:
The –fetch-full-installer flag has a sub-flag: –full-installer-version which allows you to download a specific version.
During my testing in the Catalina beta version I was able to download 10.15, 10.14.6, 10.14.5, and 10.13.6. I was not able to test if 10.13.6 would download the hardware specific build of 10.13.6 for the 2018 MacBook Pro, since I do not have that hardware.
So, to pull 10.13.6 down, you’d use:
softwareupdate –fetch-full-installer –full-installer-version 10.13.6
I wish Apple would just have a support document up with direct downloads for all of this stuff, but this tool is not a bad alternative.
Update: Don’t miss this documentation from JAMF for more on the subject.
Most of us are used to updating our Mac’s software (macOS) using the Mac App Store – the traditional way of doing it. However, there is another method to update macOS: using Terminal. Using this method to update your Mac can save time and be easier for many, especially since the Mac App Store is known to lag on older devices. Many users have also reported that updates download and install faster when installed with Terminal, so that’s another obvious advantage. Here we show you how to update your Mac using Terminal.
If you’re using multiple Macs connected to a server, you can simply run a script or remotely install an update without going through the struggle of accessing each device individually. For users running macOS Mojave or later, software updates have been moved to System Preferences, but the Terminal method is still available.
Updating Your Mac Using the Terminal
This method uses a bunch of commands to allow Terminal to search for any available updates for your particular system and install them.
Note: since updating software on any system is a core function, you’ll need your administrator password to proceed with any downloads and installations using Terminal.
1. Open Terminal on your Mac. You can do this by searching for it with Spotlight or by accessing “Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal” in Finder.
2. Type in the following command and press Enter:
This will search Apple’s servers for any available updates for your system. If there are no updates available, it’ll show “No updates available.” However, in the case there are available updates, Terminal will display the list of these updates along with the update file size.
3. To download and install a particular update, use
Here, replace NAME with the particular update you want to download and install. For example, if you want to install the macOS Big Sur 11.4-20F71 update, type sudo softwareupdate -i ‘macOS Big Sur 11.4-20F71’ .
Tip: the name of the update – also known as the identifier – is the one written next to the star/bullet as highlighted below.
You need to make sure you type in the exact identifier for the update to download and install. Also be careful of any spaces / asterisks present at the end of the identifier as is the case in the update highlighted below.
If you want to install all available updates, simply use the following command instead:
The -a command simply instructs Terminal to install all updates. As both of these commands are sudo commands, you’ll need to enter in an administrator password when prompted for one.
That’s it. The update(s) you’ve selected will start to download and will automatically start installing once downloaded. Unfortunately, there is no traditional progress bar. Instead, Terminal will keep updating you with each step via text entries.
In the case that you install an update that needs your computer to restart, Terminal will let you know. Simply enter in your password, and Terminal will automatically restart your Mac.
You can use this method to download macOS updates and updates to Apple’s major apps, but unfortunately, you’re still confined to the Mac App Store or the Software Update section in System Preferences to install any other third-party app on your Mac.
Do you prefer using the Mac App Store or Terminal to install updates on your Mac? Let us know in the Comments section below and check out some of our other macOS content, like our guides on password protecting folders on your Mac and running Python scripts.
John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.
“but unfortunately, you’re still confined to the Mac App Store or the Software Update section in System Preferences to install any other third-party app on your Mac”
Actually, you’re not. Mas ( https://github.com/mas-cli/mas ) is a command line interface to the Mac App Store. It can do a number of useful things, including installing and updating MAS apps; check out the link for more. It’s integrated with Homebrew so that ‘brew bundle dump’ will include any installed MAS apps in the brewfile that’s created…which can then be used to automate installing MAS apps as well during a new install.
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H ow do I install software updates from the command line tool on my Apple macOS / OS X computer? How can I remotely update my Apple computer by just sshing into a system? Is there is something like apt-get command or yum command for Apple macOS/OS X?
You need to use the softwareupdate command to checks for new and updated versions of your software based on information about your Apple Mac computer and current software. This command requires admin authentication for all commands i.e. you need to run it using sudo tool. In this tutorial you will learn how to install software updates from the bash command line on a macOS/OS X.
|Requirements||Apple macOS or OS X with Terminal application|
|Est. reading time||3 minutes|
Procedure to update macOS using command
- Open the terminal application on your macOS (Applications > Utilities > Terminal)
- Check for macOS update using the
- Note down available updates names.
- Install new updates on macOS using the following command:
sudo softwareupdate -i update_pkg_name
Let us see how to update macOS using a terminal command in details.
How do I find all available updates on macOS?
Open the terminal app and type the following commands. Type the following command:
Fig.01: List all available updates
- RAWCameraUpdate6.17-6.17 is software available to update also know as the identifier.
- 6.17 is version number
- 7455k download size
- Please note that updates that need a restart are marked with [restart].
How do I install specified update?
To install update called ‘RAWCameraUpdate6.17-6.17’, enter:
sudo softwareupdate -i RAWCameraUpdate6.17-6.17
A note about dealing with update names with white spaces
Some update names may include spaces, enclose the update name using a single quote character as follows:
sudo softwareupdate -i ‘OS X El Capitan Update-10.11.1’
How do I see software download and update progress?
Pass the -v option as follows:
sudo softwareupdate -vi RAWCameraUpdate6.17-6.17
sudo softwareupdate -v -i iTunesXPatch-12.3.1
How do I just download update but not install on my system?
Use the following syntax:
sudo softwareupdate -d nameHere
sudo softwareupdate -d iTunesXPatch-12.3.1
To cancel a download, enter:
sudo softwareupdate -e
How do I apply all recommended updates?
All updates that are recommended for your system:
sudo softwareupdate -r
Updating Mac using the Terminal app
To install all updates that are applicable to your system, enter:
sudo softwareupdate -i -a
Install all but make sure you ignore ‘JavaForOSX’ updates:
sudo softwareupdate –ignore JavaForOSX
To clear the list ignored updates, enter:
sudo softwareupdate –reset-ignored
Turn on or off automatic background check
Turn on Automatic check:
sudo softwareupdate –schedule on
Automatic check is off:
sudo softwareupdate –schedule off
To see info on all options, type:
Here is what I see:
Is there an official way provided by Apple or a workaround so that I can install or update Mac App Store apps through Terminal?
2 Answers 2
Note: This will only work on machines with an OS prior to macOS 10.7
There is a commandline app called softwareupdate that you have to run as root.
sudo softwareupdate –list for example will give you the list of apps that are set to update. You can then run sudo softwareupdate –install
This won’t let you install a new application that you haven’t already downloaded though.
Until recently, the answer was no but there are open source efforts to replicate the Mac App Store in a command-line based tool:
Once it’s in, you could update all the apps that are available with:
If you don’t like this tool, you could also use MDM tools to package an already downloaded application and distribute it internally. Examples are Casper Suite, sftp, rsync, etc. and side load these apps. You do need to use the GUI or the mas tool to get the first copy of the application, however. So, if you already have the app, you can file share it over, but you can’t get the App updated or installed solely from the terminal.
In a nutshell – you would set up an MDM server (there are now open source options) like:
Then you would make your own App Store app that’s amenable to command line updates. For that munki is a nice open-source choice:
From there you could package the app updates and server them side loaded or use the InstallApplication MDM command to trigger an app install or update. Do note, that if you are pulling the app or the update from Apple’s servers – you still need the user to enter their Apple ID and password in the prompt that OS X provides for the update. This does bypass opening the App Store app so it’s a partial win, I suppose.
At present, the command line can only list software updates that come through the App Store the same as the previous Software Update server was used to download system updates and updates to apps that came on physical media. Terminal is not able to update apps that were bought electronically through the Mac App Store. Only some Apple apps are included in the updates using the softwareupdate command.
Want to update Mac OS software from the Terminal? You can check for available updates, ignore packages, and install any or all Mac OS X Software Updates directly from the command line.
To see what updates are available for a Mac, or to install a software update from the Terminal of Mac OS X, amongst many other options including how to ignore particular updates, you’ll use the ‘softwareupdate’ command line tool as we’ll instruct below.
Read on to learn about using the command line software update utility on the Mac.
How to Check For & Install Mac OS Software Updates from the Command Line
We’ll break this down into a few sections. First we’ll show you how to check for available software updates and get a list of all available Mac software updates from the command line. Then we’ll show you how to install software updates from the command line, including installing all updates, recommended updates, or a specific update.
As this is using the command line, you will be using the Terminal application, found in /Applications/Utilities/ on all Macs. If you’re unfamiliar with the command line, it’s probably better to simply install software updates from the Software Update system preference or the Mac App Store.
List All Available Mac Software Updates from Command Line
To get a list of available software updates, type the following command in the Terminal:
You will see a list of available updates.
Installing All Available Mac OS Software Updates from Terminal
You can then install all available software updates with the following command:
sudo softwareupdate -iva
The use of sudo is required to get superuser privileges to actually install the updates.
Install Recommended Updates Only from Terminal in Mac OS X
You can also install only the recommended updates with:
sudo softwareupdate -irv
Installing Specific Software Updates to Mac from Terminal of Mac OS X
You can also just install specific software updates by specifying the shorthand package name from the previous list retrieved from the softwareupdate tool, just point the command at a particular package and make sure the syntax matches up like so:
sudo softwareupdate -i iPhoneConfigurationUtility-3.2
We’ve discussed different but similar approaches to installing specific software updates this way before in the past, so this may be familiar to you already.
How to Ignore Specific Software Updates from Terminal in Mac OS X
If there are any available software updates you want to ignore, you can do so with the –ignore flag, pointed at the package you want to ignore, for example:
sudo softwareupdate –ignore iWeb3.0.2-3.0.2
What other software update commands are available in Terminal?
If you want to see all the available command line options for Software Update, just type:
Hit Return and you’ll see many other options for command line based software updates to MacOS, including how to set and clear the softwareupdate catalog, download but not install, cancel downloads, install, ignore, reset the ignore list, verbose mode, suspend options, pull logs from the softwareupdate daemon, and more, with the following output showing all options:
** Catalog Management:
–set-catalog Set the new catalog URL (requires privileges)
–clear-catalog Clear the catalog URL back to defaults (requires privileges)
** Manage Updates:
-l | –list List all appropriate update labels (options: –no-scan)
-d | –download Download Only
-e | –cancel-download Cancel a download
-i | –install Install
(label) … specific updates
-a | –all All appropriate updates
-r | –recommended Only recommended updates
–background Trigger a background scan and update operation
–ignore (label) … Ignore specific updates
–reset-ignored Clear all ignored updates
** Other Tools:
–suspend-background (on | off) Suspend background operations from occurring temporarily (uses –duration)
–duration (duration)) Optional duration in seconds to suspend background operations (defaults to 5*60 seconds)
–dump-state Log the internal state of the SU daemon to /var/log/install.log
–no-scan Do not scan when listing or installing updates (use available updates previously scanned)
-v | –verbose Enable verbose output
-h | –help Print this help
Optionally, you can use the softwareupdate man page:
The command line approach to software updates is really useful for remotely updating Macs with ssh, setting up automated updates via a bash script, or if you just want to geek out.
This tool is available in all versions of Mac OS X and macOS and therefore it can be used to update just about any Mac with necessary software updates.
This is one way to avoid using the Mac App Store to update a Mac if that is necessary for whatever reason. Another would be to use Combo Updates for updating Mac system software, or getting other packages from Apple via the Support Downloads page.
If you have any other tips or tricks for command line softwareupdate in Mac OS, share them in the comments below!
The Apple App Store may be the first place many Mac users turn for app and system updates, but there’s plenty of people who aren’t huge fans of the official App Store.
Maybe the App Store seems to be running more slowly on your machine; it’s causing your Mac to freeze, or perhaps you’re simply not a fan of its look and feel. The good news is that if you have gripes with the App Store, then you don’t have to use it!
In this article, I’ll show you how to keep your favourite applications up to date, and even how to install new versions of macOS, without ever having to launch the App Store.
Updating applications from the Terminal
As long as you originally installed the application from the App Store, you can update it from the Terminal, using the Mac App Store (‘mas’) program. The downside is that before you can install mas, you’ll need to have Homebrew setup. If you’ve never used this software package management tool before, then check out our complete guide to getting started with Homebrew.
Once you have Homebrew setup, you’re ready to install mas:
- Launch your Mac’s Terminal (‘Applications > Utilities > Terminal.’)
- Copy/paste the following command into the Terminal window:
brew install mas
- Press the ‘Enter’ key on your keyboard.
Homebrew will now install mas. Once mas is setup on your machine, you’re ready to start updating your apps from the command line.
Update all your apps
To see a list of all the apps that need updating, run the following command in the Terminal window:
This will present you with a list of all the apps that need updating. To update everything on this list, type the following command into the Terminal window:
Update a specific app
To get picky about which applications receive an update:
- Run the ‘mas outdated’ command, as normal.
- Check the Terminal output for the application that you want to update – it should have a number in front of it. Copy this number.
- Type the following command into the Terminal, but don’t press the ‘Enter’ key just yet:
- Paste the number to the end of this command.
- Now press the ‘Enter’ key on your Mac’s keyboard.
Install macOS updates from the Terminal
There’s only one thing more annoying than having to update applications via the App Store – and that’s having to update macOS via the App Store!
However, you can install system-level updates directly from the Terminal, without having to install any additional software. Even if you decided against installing Homebrew and mas, it’s still possible to update macOS without ever venturing into the App Store.
Install all available system updates
To check for available system updates:
- Open a new Terminal window (‘Applications > Utilities > Finder.’)
- Copy/paste the following command into the Terminal:
After a few moments, the Terminal will return a list of all the available system updates.
To install everything on this list, run the following command:
softwareupdate -i -a
Restart your computer when prompted, and once your Mac boots up your operating system will be completely up to date.
Get selective with system updates
Alternatively, if you want to pick and choose which updates to install, then:
- Find out what updates are available, by running the ‘softwareupdate -l’ command.
- Check the Terminal output. Each update should have a * symbol, followed by the name of the update, for example here’s the Terminal report for an available iTunes update:
iTunes (12.7.4), 272816K [recommended]
- Type the following command, but don’t press the ‘Enter’ key:
- Paste the name of the update to the end of this command, for example:
softwareupdate -i iTunesX-12.7.4
- Press the ‘Enter’ key, and the update will be installed.
Download without installing
Often, the most frustrating part of installing system-level updates, is that you need to step away from your Mac while the installation is actually taking place, which isn’t always possible in the middle of the working day!
If you update via the Terminal, then you can download all the available updates without installing them, using the following command:
softwareupdate -d -a
You can then install these updates at a later date, via the App Store. Although you will need to launch the App Store, this approach allows you to download all available system-level updates in the background, and then set them to install just as you’re about to step away from your Mac, for example during your lunchbreak or even overnight.
By the time you return to your Mac, all of your newly-updated software will be ready to use!
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